In the Māori tribal organisation the whānau comprises a family spanning three to four generations. It forms the smallest partition of the Māori society.
In the ancient Māori society, before the arrival of the Pākehā, a whānau consisted of the kaumātua (tribal elders), senior adults such as parents, uncles and aunts, and the sons and daughters together with their partners and children. Large whānau lived in their own compound in the pā. Whānau also had their own gardening plots and their own fishing and hunting spots. The whānau was economically self-sufficient. In warfare, it supported the iwi (tribe) or a hapū (sub-tribe).
^Gray, K. A. P. (2008). Tāniko : public participation, young Māori women, & whānau health. Massey Research Online. p. 10. hdl:10179/640.
^Moltzen, R.; Macfarlane, H. A. (2006). "New Zealand: gifted and talented Maori learners". In B. Wallace; G. Eriksson. Diversity in gifted education: International perspectives on global issues. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 305–307.
^Thomas, T.; LaGrow, S. J,. "Whanau workers: Providing services for the indigenous people of New Zealand". Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness88 (1): 86–90 .
^Pere, R. (1984). "Te orange o te whanau: The health of the family". In Maori Health Planning Workshop. Hui Whakaoranga: Maori health planning workshop, Hoani Waititi Marae, 19-2 March, 1984. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Department of Health.